The Top 20 Albums of January | 2022

THE TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH is just that, a grip of twenty albums that’d resonated most powerfully throughout this month. If you’re new to the site, it’ll be about 75-100% metal albums. Choices are selected based on temporal immersion, personal connection, impressive style, point of view, and with great consideration for the lasting value of each album. All choices are ultimately personal and land without consideration for popular culture, hype or “relevance”. There are several albums that I will leave out of this list, but they’ll still be considered for end of the year list(s). Links to full reviews are provided when applicable. Do not think I’ve overlooked any promotional material, I am but one man and writing about music is a passion I afford as much time as is manageable. I am eternally grateful to have so much to choose from. Thank you.

I. A chilling fog settles over our permanently drained and yet annually flooded-over former wetland here beside the White River, the air quality is especially foul in addition to the ~38° F chill on the air and this has made January especially prime for indoor activities. A curiously apathetic bout of cabin fever shouldered alongside an inexplicably dry release season has found me exploring the remake of Demon’s Souls and frankly struggling to find joy with its minimally cooperative world tendency system, too-glossy reskinning and still very stupid artificial intelligence. The rushed, almost flippant conclusion of the first season of The Wheel of Time left me similarly listless. All hope is not lost in revisit of Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil and a virtually untouched copy of Walden stuffed behind a pile of smaller hand-cramping trade paperbacks. Anyhow, although true standout releases were slim this month I’ve still got a lot of great things to recommend and I am grateful to have any sort of options funneled my way nonetheless.

II. My label Spirit Coffin Publishing released our first vinyl release, Journey Into Darkness‘ ‘Infinite Universe Infinite Death‘ on January 14th and any interest is greatly appreciated as it has been a bigger undertaking than expected due to a three month delay from the manufacturer. Likewise, our second vinyl release Zetar‘s ‘Devouring Darkness‘ now has an official release date of February 11th though pre-orders will likely ship a bit earlier. I’ve invested in fine, sturdy quality items and personally designed the layouts of each release (CD, cassette, vinyl) in every case so, very proud of the outcome and I greatly appreciate the support received as the first wave of label releases comes to a close. I’ll be focusing on the second (and potentially third) issue of Mystification Zine for much of 2022 but may potentially have a few things in the works closer to the second half of the year.

III. Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels and PR firms who choose to work with me — As well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. The goals and ethos of Grizzly Butts have not changed in 2022 but I will be somewhat less regularly active due to career and personal responsibilities intensifying. Thank you.

#1Album of the Month
TITLE:Stellar Stream Obscured
RECORD LABEL(S):Hammerheart Records

Swedish melodic death metal quintet Sarcasm‘s fourth full-length album is a rare gift unto our dead-eyed, anxietous realm and one which deserves high praise for its inspired vision. The Uppsala-borne act’s history dates back to the late 80’s and for many years they’d persisted as a cult memory, so, for the sake of context everything beyond 1994’s legendary demo ‘A Touch of the Burning Red Sunset‘ has manifested as a miraculous resuscitation of an act of admirable distinction. It would be one thing to recreate the spirit of Scandinavian melodic black/death metal, we get worthy releases in said style at least a few times per year, but in the case of Sarcasm‘s post-2015 reformation discography this is not enough, the auld high standard of musicianship and elaborate songcraft is fully upheld in their hands and they’ve given us ‘Stellar Stream Obscured‘ with no quarter in mind. The real magic of listening to this record is that it doesn’t simply ring of nostalgia but presents these forms in wisened modulation which speak to timeless intent rather than iced-over glory days, in this sense they’ve presented a path forward that cannot help but radiate the lasting spirit of the band. Otherwise, it is the album I’d connected with most in January and likewise the one I’d listened to the most.

TITLE:Perfect Light
RECORD LABEL(S):Svart Records,
Cappio Records

Though my interest in Patrick Walker‘s occasionally touching folken vibrato and knack for slow-release doom balladry still rests quite squarely in each of Warning‘s full-lengths there is no good reason not to have explored his work in 40 Watt Sun, especially now that they’re three albums deep and aging gracefully. ‘Perfect Light‘ is essentially a singer-songwriter styled ‘chamber folk’ record which fully gives up the ghostly heavy rock bravado of the past, shambling into profound statement, er… admittedly not moving a muscle in the process of refinement down to barest textures. Though it’d felt like distortion or some manner of dreamed-up shoegazing effects were nowhere near ready to be cut cold turkey within the raw sorrow of ‘Wider Than the Sky‘ (2016) this clarified focus upon Walker‘s voice with support from slower-than-thou minimal rhythms (via acoustic guitar, piano, drums, and scant backing vocals) proves itself convincing right from the start. The fellow is up to his old tricks in some regard anyhow, mulling over several profound statements until either a deep frown or a half-smile finishes the thought in the final moment of his best pieces, and knowing this performative tic/slow-burnt language helps ‘Perfect Light‘ land as a meditative experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if this admittedly far too long gloom hour opened far more doors than it shuts in stepping away from amplifier worship entirely. It fit the gloomy old man in a burning forest mood at hand and gave me something different this month, anyhow.

TITLE:The Ageless
RECORD LABEL(S):Desert Wastelands Productions

Santa Rosa, California-based psychedelic progressive death metal band Vile Rites might be fresh out of the gates with this debut EP but they’re not at all sporting greenhorn level work on ‘The Ageless‘, a mature and decidedly thoughtful record which manages both aggression and heady meander in finely balance vision. The aggressive pacing of the sub-genre’s true classics are held firmly in mind throughout the listening experience yet the recording is wholly professional, crafted with disciplined precision which speaks to the modern ante-upping groups in this realm such as Aenigmatum. Anytime I get the feeling that an education in the classics has inspired a young band to excel beyond the lowest common denominator of current trendsetters I’m a hundred percent in and in this case I see fresh massive potential stacking up behind each milestone these guys hit.

TITLE:Relics of the Dead
RECORD LABEL(S):Hell’s Headbangers Records

Improving upon the already impressive breakthrough found on ‘Grotesque Offerings‘ (2018) much of what makes this third full-length from Orlando, Florida death/doom metal quartet Druid Lord a triumph lies in its taste level, suggesting some considerable years of experience add up here for a world class record that should please the Hooded Menace crowd just as much as anyone looking for a fix nearby Cianide‘s earlier days. ‘Relics of the Dead‘ develops signature rhythms further while presenting new possibilities by way of a few funeral doom creeps and nigh ceaseless use of fine lead guitar work, all of it naturally achieving eldest extreme metal morbidity from folks whom still have the right sense for ‘old school’ extreme metal standards. Though I knew I’d like this one based off of previews it has nonetheless surprised me with its lasting value and I think that is well worth an extra vote of confidence.

TITLE:Na Severe Srdca
RECORD LABEL(S):Into the Night Records

Bratislava, Slovakia-based duo Stangarigel brew a heaping cauldron full of mid-to-late second wave black metal inspired atmosphere in creation of their debut full-length ‘Na Severe Srdca‘. A plot of wildering fables and breathtaking mythos, this passion project from guitarist/bassist Lesodiv, whom is best known as key songwriter and guitarist for renowned black/heavy metal band Malokarpatan, arrives in a state wherein there’ll be no escaping the artist’s distinct flourish and knack for ancient black metal with a forest-borne spirit. When teamed with vocalist/drummer Stalagnat (whom I believe is kin to Lesodiv) their efforts are successfully transformative, transporting the ear to another time and place with a strong voice that walks us off the ledge of plainest nostalgia-bent daze and unto an intense yearning for hand-hewn purpose by way of thoughtful craftsmanship; That which’d made connections between ancestral muse and individualism in conjure is yet worth revisiting and perfecting in creation of worlds rather than dissolving the ‘self’ within cheap death’s spectacle.

TITLE:Phantasmal Scourge
RECORD LABEL(S):Rotted Life Records

Virginian death/doom metal crew Night Hag strike upon the expected high standards set by their most recent releases with relatively clean fidelity confidently spewing forth filthiest death/doom metal in a style heavily akin to the likes of Autopsy‘s second album, earlier Eternal Darkness tapes and Derkéta. ‘Phantasmal Scourge‘ is exactly what you’d expect, exactly what previous works had promised and nothing more, a straight forward gore-sputtering slow-hammer of unsanctionable, decaying underground doom but the fact that it isn’t much of a curveball isn’t a detractor in the slightest. When I suggested that picking this record up and letting it chunk out its phlegm-dripping horrors for all hours into the night had been a joy I definitely meant it and I’ve continued to return to it beyond the review process.

TITLE:Douce Fange
RECORD LABEL(S):Les Acteurs De L’Ombre

One of the most impressive left-field black metal offshoots from the Parisian landscape these last several years, Pensées Nocturnes is a character rich group to expand your horizons and build mettle for greater variety in terms of avant-garde expressionistic metal. To some ‘Douce Fange‘ will read as high-chaos circus operatic and to others it’ll be a perfectly affected old French characterization twisted by an extreme metal hand, wherever it lands it won’t likely leave the listener in a state of apathy. For my own taste the thrill of listening comes with better familiarity with the rhythms and prose that directs ‘Douce Fange‘ as it builds in meaning and character, what’d appear chaotic and circus-brained eventually reveals a deft and charming hand applied to truly wild-minded extreme music. Though their last album was a bit of a brutal challenge this one has stuck with me to some considerable degree and I remain excited to see their discography continue to stretch into its own plane of freakish existence.

TITLE:Exhortation to the Impure
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

There is some profound and potentially satisfyingly irreligious mystic quality to what Chilean death metal band Verbum are doing on ‘Exhortation to the Impure‘ by way of a sound that could be tangentially likened to SwallowedDisembowelment, and perhaps even Mystic Charm. Raw in movement and attitude yet clear and obsidian in its presence, this is a refined sort of ‘old school’ treachery presented in appropriately dark shades of underground death/doom metal. The post-‘Eroded Corridors of Unbeing‘ nostalgic death/doom metal space rarely offers us examples of nigh generationally increased sophisticated abysm-draining guitar progression and, simple as this might appear at face value, the consistency of phrase and cavernous presence presented throughout ‘Exhortation to the Impure‘ ultimately pays off here in culmination.

RECORD LABEL(S):Hammerheart Records

After some considerable time spent within the grey-clouded dramatism and heroic apocalyptic downpour of ‘Vargtimman‘ I’d at the very least found some beams of light to break through the nostalgic blinders I’d worn in favoring ‘Nattramn‘ (2015) over the rest of their discography for some time. This seems to be a certain refinement the project has steadily worked towards sustaining for at decade at least, the result is reasonably affecting and often highly memorable when engaged. It might all appear a bit drab and dire upon approach as sonorous pagan black/viking metal in the endtyme but there is good reason for this doomed affect and it lies within the context of the lyrics, something best understood via immersion and of course if Ereb Altor‘s style suits your own taste.

TITLE:Of Soil Unearthed
RECORD LABEL(S):Invictus Productions

Swiss death metal cult, er, Deathcult have been silent for some time though this does not find them morphing into unrecognizable beast or ‘progressing’ unto awkwardly high-concept pretension for this second full-length. Instead we find the taste of Deathcult‘s riffcraft evolving toward larger statements of claw-winged aggression on ‘Of Soil Unearthed‘, an album still rooted in the late 80’s/earliest 90’s era of death discipline honestly displayed with a certain waterlogged homebrewed gnarl which reinforces the ideal skull-clubbing force underground classicist death metal -should- possess. It is another album balancing a love for the early origins of extreme metal with certain breakthroughs in the craft early on, nostalgic yet alluring for their perspective rather than recreation of ethos.

TITLE:Alteration Through Possession
RECORD LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions

Vicious Knights should give classicist death/thrash heads visions of early Massacra within their post-‘Terrible Certainty‘ levelled riff attack and extended rhythmic phrases which not only speak to late 80’s Teutonic thrash metal voicing but also the inventive standard those bands influenced within early death metal. From hints of Possessed‘s run heavy jagged rhythms to direct analogues to Messiah‘s ‘Extreme Cold Weather‘ and ‘Morbid Visions‘-era Sepultura we find the stair-climbing font of death metal’s rise post-‘Apocalyptic Raids‘. Fans of Mortal Scepter, Protector, and Minotaur (Germany) should immediately find kin in these feats.‘Alteration Through Possession’ doesn’t fuck around in the slightest when striking at the heart of ‘old school’ death/thrash metal, picking up their terror-sword and killing riff after riff as expected, all while implementing high-rate developed technical skills without losing the trundling ’88 death-thrashing cult sound that they’d originally presented.

TITLE:Time is a Razor
RECORD LABEL(S):Electric Valley Records

This third full-length from Volta Redonda, Brazil-based heavy psychedelic/blues rock quartet Stone House on Fire finds the band striking stoner/psychedelic rock gold by reaching deeper into the late 60’s/early 70’s heavy blues paradigm for tone, presenting a post-Hendrix levelled-up tension and expounding upon that thread without going full acid rock jam. Their sound isn’t so elaborate a conception as it seems on paper, a bit of new-found thinking applied to the groove of classic heavy psych for a result that is comfortable and pretty damned easy to pick up and enjoy. The main reason this strikes me as something a bit special is this sense of a band who jams together as a passion but writes songs to sustain some sense of purpose, the feeling is viably ‘old school’ in the best way; Beyond that notion they’ve pulled out six engaging songs that are a huge get as a record seemingly designed for prime vinyl purchase and a fully on point jam with no groggy excess one’d expect from this sub-genre niche.

TITLE:Once Upon a Weapon
RECORD LABEL(S):Atomic Action! Records,
Council Records

One of the most polished and dare I say mature hardcore punk records I’ve stumbled across in the last several years, this second full-length from Chicago’s Wrong War finds its own sense of confrontational and hard-angled rhythms as the quartet blaze through a killer thread here. Though I am not familiar with their past/present bands (Current, The Phenoms, Salvo Beta) this record struck that late 90’s/early 2000’s tuneful punk edge while still rarely pulling away from the focused violence of records like Articles of Faith‘s ‘Give Thanks‘. Excellent stuff that I’ve not been able to pull away from since it released.

TITLE:First Contact [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Temple of Mystery Records

Kontact appears to be a collaboration between Matt Ries (TravelerHrom) and two members of the now apparently split-up Blackrat and this is their introductory EP. I had a blast with this one as my reaction went from mildly annoyed first impressions toward serious craving for its alienated slow-burning anthemic qualities. No need for a “they’ve got promise” for this one, these guys are already trad metal pros and these songs definitely stick.

TITLE:Kingdoms to Hovel
RECORD LABEL(S):Personal Records

Appearing without any sort of grave warning after a year of honing, Filipino musician Jayson Gonzales‘ ‘old school’ death metal quartet Nullification present a neat and tidy full-length debut aimed squarely at the late 80’s thrash metal refined edge of death metal by way of the early 90’s in ‘Kingdoms to Hovel‘. The appeal of this record is instant and well sustained, since this is so straight forward there’ll be no reason to belabor that point — You’ll get it quick if you’re a die-hard ‘old school’ death metal head capable of recognizing fine-ass death/thrash metal riffs.

TITLE:The Damaged Organ
RECORD LABEL(S):CrazySane Records

Shoegazing celestially-flung melancholy-lite, subtly motorik movements and an expectedly surrealistic approach provide the aura of the self-aware alien on this second album from Leipzig, Germany-based neo-psychedelic krautrock duo AUA. ‘The Damaged Organ‘ is brief yet satisfyingly introspective in its full listen, musing over the nowadays human condition in a disembodied state, taking great concern for place and purpose while presenting soft electro-psych rock movements that build in scope over the course of the ~30 minute run of the album. Heady and somewhat involved as its listlessness presentation is to start, there is some great ease and warmth in the reveal of ‘The Damaged Organ’ that renders it far more repeatable than a lot of modern experimental psychedelic rock. Were the album any longer I think I’d likely have found the vocals a bit repetitive in terms of the performance but this is thankfully at least somewhat different than the previous album so that it feels like stronger iteration of said choices. Worthwhile for anyone looking for a decent surge of kosmische-affected rock.

TITLE:Decapitate the Aging World
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

Expect an intimidating sojourn by foot, steed and wing as this intensely crafted 40 minute opus maintains its galloping stride, apace with the best of earliest DesasterMoonblood, and Satyricon. By way of coldest synth and guitar work too proud to hide behind obscured tones this artist depicts six wide-angled mayhemic scenes of magick and conquer delivered at a brilliant medium between stoic heavy metal aggression and the tastefully frigid depth and distance of classic black metal’s darkest high fantasy obsessions. One of just a few black metal essentials out this month.

TITLE:Ad Plures Ire
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

Rostock, Germany-borne and always self-directed black metal band Silent Leges Inter Arma return after a decade with their follow-up to a well-received Eisenwald-released self-titled debut, showing some incredible mutation towards maturity and profound presence on ‘Ad Plures Ire‘. Without any real dependence on the nakedly enraged sounds of the 90’s or any sort of dried up post-music tropes Silent Leges Inter Arma take admirable stand apart from the masses. I’d found this release had much to divulge within its intellectual discourse, expressing some wizening ear for melody after such a long gap between works.

TITLE:From Melmac With Hate
RECORD LABEL(S):Bigoût Records

French trio Salo present a very determined form of garage punk-sped noise rock full of spiraling out of control guitar theatrics, broken tones and drugged rhythms on this debut full-length. If modern noise rock is often too dystopian and dissonant for your taste I think the energetic movement that stretches across ‘From Melmac With Hate‘ should inspire without losing too much of the angular crawl one would expect from a certain action-rocked classification. The press notes mention Thee Oh Sees alongside Metz and I think this is apt enough ’til we start to hit songs like “Tasmanian Tiger (for Nikita)” where the pace slows out of the usual effects-laden jangle and has just enough garage psych flair to feel like something beyond the norm. The usual criticisms apply here in terms of noise rock/garage punk affected records, I could use a bit more variety in both tone and pace, yet I’ve generally found no serious gripe with this album and continue to spin it.

RECORD LABEL(S):Gates of Hell Records

Vancouver, British Colombia-based quartet Maule sports a NWOBHM-era/US 80’s power metal spirit in droves to start as they proceed to (somewhat logically) incorporate mid-80’s German speed/power metal surges into their sound. The anthemic snarl of early Running Wild keeps the energy up on songs like “Summoner” and the brilliantly intense “Red Sonja”. ‘Maule‘ reaches its loftiest highs relying upon strong dual guitar compositions and the raw expression of vocalist/guitarist Jakob Weel‘s voice which I’d equate with Tony Dolan fronted Venom circa ’89-’93 or so; If you like post-NWOBHM records like ‘The Waste Lands’ as much as I do this’ll be a solid record for anyone looking for traditional heavy metal with a somewhat raw edged sound.

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